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Ask Us: Why are students required to take in-person end-of-course exams?

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools officials say they’re following rules from higher authorities when telling parents and students end-of-course exams must be conducted in person.

Parents asked the Post why students are required to take end-of-course exams in person, even if they are online-only, or have a zero count for 20% of their final grade. But Rowan-Salisbury Schools said it didn’t make the rules.

“All high schools in RSS, and throughout the state, have to follow the same rules regarding EOC administrations,” said RSS Director of Accountability Kelly Burgess.

For RSS students, testing will occur outside of the required five-day testing window because of a waiver granted by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. So, exams will be Tuesday through Wednesday, Dec. 23. Make-up days are scheduled through Jan. 22. If students do not come to take their fall EOCs, they will be able to do so during the spring window and during summer testing, Burgess said.

She said plans at individual schools might vary.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools spokeswoman Rita Foil provided a copy of an email sent last week to educators from N.C. Superintendent Mark Johnson saying, “Many have contacted DPI and local school leaders to voice concerns of the State Board of Education’s requirements for mandatory EOCs that also count as 20% of a student’s grade.”

While it’s likely too late to change testing scheduled to start this week, Johnson encouraged people to voice their opinion to the State Board of Education.

A petition on change.org that’s attracted more than 7,700 signatures hopes to alter the rule, saying bringing children back into buildings as COVID-19 cases are rising is “a violation of public schools’ obligation to protect and act in the best interest of children.” Many parents chose remote schooling options because their child or a family member are at a greater risk of complications from COVID-19, the petition states.

But in a letter dated Nov. 13, State Board of Education Chairman Eric C. Davis told superintendents and charter school leaders that a September letter from U.S. Department of Education was the reason North Carolina wasn’t giving students a reprieve from end-of-course testing “despite the difficulties and challenges that are created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The state board shied away from remote assessments because of the potential to compromise “the validity and reliability of the test data.” Results might not be representative of a student’s ability, Davis wrote.

The Sept. 3 letter from Devos cited agreement from a consortium of organizations when saying it’s important to assess how students have fared in learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those organizations included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Center for American Progress, the Education Trust and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Devos wrote.

“Research shows that school closures this past spring disproportionately affected the most vulnerable students, widening disparities in achievement for low-income students, minority students, and students with disabilities,” she wrote. “Almost every student experienced some level of disruption. Moving forward, meeting the needs of all students will require tremendous effort. To be successful, we must use data to guide our decision-making.”

Burgess said the renewal status of Rowan-Salisbury Schools — which offers flexibility in instruction, budgeting, school schedules and other matters — would not allow it to avoid administering in-person assessments. Renewal, she said, also does not apply to state requirements about end-of-course exams being 20% of final grades and a 95% participation rule implemented in North Carolina.

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